British lorry drivers are “appalled” by a UK government decision to extend rights for overseas drivers in response to shortages, saying it puts them at risk of being undercut by foreign workers.
A shortage of lorry drivers has in recent weeks led to fuel deliveries at petrol stations being rationed, blockages at ports and delays to the transport of goods.
This week, shipping giant Maersk said it was diverting vessels away from Felixstowe port in Suffolk because a shortage of drivers had prevented it from docking on time.
The UK government offered 5,000 visas for drivers to come from the EU and work, but the uptake has been low.
In a bid to attract more foreign drivers and plug the gaps in the supply chain, the government announced a relaxation of cabotage rules, which allow companies from one country to trade in another.
Currently, drivers from EU nations can make a maximum of two trips between two places in the UK within a week.
The changes mean they could pick up and drop off an unlimited number of times over a two-week period before they return to the continent.
Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association, has hit back at the plans, saying they could “sabotage” the industry.
“I spoke to some of our members last night and they were appalled, ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked were some of their more broadcastable comments,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. “This is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers.”
“The government has been talking about a high wage, high skill economy and not pulling the level marked uncontrolled immigration and to them this is exactly what it looks like,” he said.
He said the relaxation of rules would open the door for overseas drivers to make more deliveries than British drivers, while being paid less by their employers.
He said the plan risked undercutting UK hauliers who are grappling with rising costs and staff shortages.
Mr McKenzie acknowledged the new rules would speed up deliveries in the UK in the run up to Christmas and temporarily address some issues.
But he said it would have “consequences for hard-working UK hauliers who are suffering under the weight of staff shortages, poor roadside facilities, ridiculous waiting times to load and unload.”
“We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry.”
Mr Shapps insisted the new rules would benefit the UK and ensure deliveries would be made in time for Christmas.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said Britons would enjoy a traditional Christmas with family and friends, adding: “There will be food, there will be gifts.”
He said the supply chain issues stemmed from the global economy’s emergence from the pandemic and insisted the government was taking action to address the “stresses and strains”.
“But we’re taking a whole range of measures, including one that I’m announcing today about the way that lorry drivers from abroad pick up and drop things off, the so called cabotage rules,” he said.
“And under our changes that will mean that they can, in an unlimited way by Christmas, pick up and drop off goods within this country within a 14-day period.”